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Gov. Scott Seeks To Reassure Public On School Start, Delays Reopening To September

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Child health specialist Dr. Rebecca Bell spoke at the governor's news conference in favor of public schools reopening in September.

Gov. Phil Scott will delay school reopenings to Sept. 8 to give educators and administrators time to implement procedures needed to keep students and teachers safe from COVID-19.

Many schools were scheduled to resume classes in late August. But Scott said schools need more time to develop plans that can involve remote learning, in-person education, and a hybrid model of online education and classes in school.

“I know anxiety is high even while the health data and experts clearly support in-person instruction,” Scott said at his Tuesday news briefing. “And I can assure you that, if necessary, we will not hesitate to act to protect our students and school employees.”

More from VPR: UVM Expert On Kids And Disease Argues For A Careful Return To In-Person Learning

Appearing with the governor at the briefing was pediatric health specialist Dr. Rebecca Bell, the president of the Vermont chapter of the American Society of Pediatrics. She said the research shows that children – and younger children in particular – are less likely than adults to contract and transmit the new coronavirus.

Bell said the benefits of students being in school outweigh the risks of contracting the virus in the school setting. Students need to be back in school, Bell said, both to learn and for the other support that schools provide.

“But I can tell you, both from my experience and my pediatric colleagues’ experience, that children and adolescents, especially those who are most vulnerable, are really untethered right now,” she said. “They're not doing okay. The loss of structure and routine and consistent adult presence and social and emotional connection has been really upending.”

"Children and adolescents, especially those who are most vulnerable, are really untethered right now. They're not doing okay. The loss of structure and routine and consistent adult presence and social and emotional connection has been really upending." — Dr Rebecca Bell, child health specialist and American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont chapter president

Meanwhile, the union that represents most Vermont public school teachers said Scott's decision to delay the start of the school year is a "good first step."

The Vermont NEA says that Scott's executive order pushing the first day of school to Sept. 8 will help with safety.

“With today’s order, the governor has paved the way for an orderly, phased-in approach to reopening our schools,” said Don Tinney, a high school English teacher and the union’s president.

But the union, which has 13,000 members, also urged more preparation and other steps before the school year begins.

"Health and safety must be our first priority," Tinney said. “By working together in a methodical, orderly way, I hope we can avoid the mistakes that would endanger our students, educators, parents, and communities.”

More from VPR: When It Comes To Reopening, Officials At Rutland High School Are Staying Flexible

"With today's order, the governor has paved the way for an orderly, phased-in approach to reopening our schools." — Don Tinney, president, Vermont NEA

Administration officials say they are basing their decisions on health and safety concerns, although Agency of Education Secretary Dan French said he understands the anxiety some parents and teachers feel about students returning to classrooms this fall.

French is a former high school principal and school superintendent. He said his own family feels the uncertainty as he plans for a statewide reopening and his wife plans to return to the classroom as an elementary school teacher.

“What we can do is pay attention to the science, keep our assumptions realistic and use our best judgment,” he said. “To be successful, we must be flexible and be prepared to respond to what is happening whether or not it fits our plans, because our plans are just today's best-informed guess about what will happen in the future.”

"To be successful, we must be flexible and be prepared to respond to what is happening whether or not it fits our plans, because our plans are just today's best-informed guess about what will happen in the future." — Education Secretary Dan French

Scott said Vermont’s low COVID numbers means the state’s experience is more like that of many countries in Europe, which are reopening schools this fall. He said he would feel differently if the state were experiencing the viral transmission seen in states across the south and west. 

The governor cited the experience of those states when a reporter asked him to justify continuing restrictions on public gatherings and other measures imposed in response to the pandemic.

“Arizona, California, Texas, Florida,” he said. “I mean, that could be Vermont. We’re very fortunate to be in the position we’re in today because of the approach we’ve taken, because it could have ended up much differently.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter John Dillon @VPRDillon.

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